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Trip Report

OTOL Boston "T" Party RailFest 2007

November 9-10, 2007


Chapter 0: Introduction

OTOL Boston "T" Party 2007 existed on paper for some time, but I vowed we would not return to Boston until the MBTA put the Greenbush Line back into service.

In the early planning stages, this Fest was a four-day event that would have also included some riding on the north side of town. Since I continue to work weekends and my time is limited, and given this would be November when it gets dark early, it was decided to do a two-day event this time, and have another two-day meet at another time.

The seeds were planted for our first return to Boston in over five years. It would also be our first riding the MBTA commuter trains as a group since Massachusetts Bay Commuter Rail (MBCR) took over operations from Amtrak in 2003.

Chapter 1: Preparation

Exactly two years before this Fest, Skip Howard helped me out in finding a place where we could have lunch along this commuter line. The idea was to be able to have time to eat lunch while also changing between trains serving the Kingston/Route 3 and Cordage/Plymouth branches. Michael was with me on that trip, as well as Jack Suslak.

After we had visited a few stations along the Plymouth/Kingston Line and saw what eateries were near them, we then went over to the Greenbush Line to inspect the construction progress. Skip stopped at a few of the station locations and we toured some of them on foot.

So when the MBTA announced that they would put their steel wheels in motion towards Greenbush on October 31st, I put my wheels in motion as well. The homepage was finalized with our plans. It included, as always, links to restaurants, hotels, scanner frequencies, transit agencies, our projected costs, the guest list, and our itinerary.

Participants began making their travel and lodging reservations. We ran into some snags since there was a shortage of hotel rooms in or close to the city, and what rooms existed were very expensive. Most of us, therefore, ended up a commuter rail trip away, rather than near transit.

Chapter 2: Thursday, November 8, 2007

This was not an official Fest day, but many of us on this day were travelling towards Boston and then to their respective accommodations in the area.

Chapter 2.1: Getting to Boston

Bill Antonides was the first traveler to reach Boston, by taking Acela Express 2154 on Thursday. He did some commuter rail riding upon arrival, and rode the Middleborough/Lakeville Line exactly 24 hours before the rest of our group did.

Lou Petrillo also arrived in Boston early, having taken a morning Regional train from New Haven. He stayed in a hotel near Braintree, although not the one where we had all the problems five years ago.

Because of the hotel situation in Boston, Ted Patchell ended up staying in Providence. He had to commute back and forth on the MBTA Providence Line each day of the Fest.

Maurice Carson set out for Boston on Regional 86 from Philadelphia. His train got him into town a bit late; however as per our recommendations he got off at Back Bay Station and took the Orange Line since he was headed for Lowell via North Station.

Michael and I had a horrible trip. For the first time ever, the parking lots at Metropark were completely full. Even the overflow lot had cars parked on its apron. The attendant at the garage told me to come back after 3 PM. That was not an option since I had an Acela Express ticket for a 2:16 train. In a panic I drove quickly up to the parking garage next to where I work Weehawken, and left my car there. We then got on a ferry and rode across the river to Manhattan. Then on the other side, instead of separate buses to 34th and 42nd Streets they were running a combined loop in the clockwise direction. Had we rode around to 34th Street we would have missed the train. So at 42nd Street & 8th Avenue we got off and walked nine blocks south to Penn Station. Acela Express 2164, the train we should have caught at Metropark, was already there and boarding. So we got right on the train and I absorbed the slight difference in fares to ensure we got onto this train as planned.

The train was sold out, so we didn't feel like waiting in line for dinner. (We didn't even get seats together because we boarded so late.) So we just waited until we got to Boston South Station to have dinner off the train.

Timekeeping was pretty good, despite an unscheduled stop at the Stamford station. This train was supposed to be nonstop between New York and Providence. Somewhere in Rhode Island we blew by Regional 86, and Maurice called to thank me for blowing his train's windows out.

Upon our arrival at South Station, Bill Antonides greeted us. He sat with Michael and me while we had dinner, and then he went off towards North Station to catch a Lowell Line train to Lowell where he was staying. (He later said he met up with Maurice on the same train.)

Mike Hammond flew from Akron, OH to Boston's Logan Airport. He then took the Silver Line bus to South Station, and met us there.

Mike didn't have enough time to get dinner before our 7:35 PM MBTA Franklin Line departure, so we just went and boarded when it was announced. Mike would get something to eat later at the hotel.

Alan Burden arrived from New York on Acela Express 2166, and he got off at Back Bay Station in order to make MBTA 725 as well to his hotel in Dedham. However the door of our coach was not opened, so he did not sit with us on that train.

With most participants in town and on the way to their hotels, Thursday was over and we looked forward to starting the Fest the next morning.

Chapter 3: Friday, November 9, 2007

Friday was the first official day of our Fest. We would ride the Stoughton and Providence Lines, as well as one of the Old Colony Lines to Middleborough/Lakeville.

Chapter 3.0: Meeting (or not) in Boston

Although we would ultimately have eleven people involved today (ten were expected), just six of us met at South Station to begin our travels for the day. The group starting out was Lou, Ted, Mike, Alan, Michael, and me. Where was everyone else?

Bill and Maurice, who had been staying in Lowell, had a problem with a broken down train, causing them to stand around at the Lowell station for a long time and then come into Boston an hour late. Bill had planned to join our group only for the Stoughton turn, and then he was going to ride other lines. From North Station he rode the Fitchburg Line instead, and later in the day he got the Stoughton Line under his belt on his own. Maurice, in the meantime, took the Orange Line down to Back Bay Station, and waited for us to return from Stoughton.

Jack, who had planned to join us on the outbound train to Stoughton at Back Bay Station, inadvertently boarded the wrong train, one that was headed for Needham. The Needham Line train was running five minutes late, at the time our Stoughton Line train should have arrived, so Jack just jumped on and then found out his mistake once in motion. Just about all Needham Line trains stop at Forest Hills (where Jack could have detrained and returned to Back Bay via the Orange Line, although he still would have missed us), but this particular run was not scheduled to make the Forest Hills stop and went right to the next stop, Roslindale Village. Jack decided to just ride out to the end at Needham Heights and then return to Back Bay on the inbound run. Luckily for him this trip was concurrent with our Stoughton trip, so he returned to Back Bay just before we arrived.

The other person not with us was Skip. He parked at Stoughton, just five miles from his home, and he would join us there.

Chapter 3.1: MBTA Stoughton Line, Train #909, Boston South Station to Stoughton

Our group of half a dozen started out from Boston South Station on MBTA 909 three minutes late at 8:53 AM. On our relatively short trip, we did not make up that time. We arrived at Stoughton at 9:29 AM, five minutes down. We had to detrain here, and the equipment was brought beyond a grade crossing for turning. On the platform, we met Skip, who would join us for the rest of the day.

Chapter 3.2: MBTA Stoughton Line, Train #910, Stoughton to Boston Back Bay Station

Our train returned to the platform to represent Train 910 and we all boarded. We departed at 9:41 AM, one minute down. The public address system on this train had a lot of feedback, making the announcements totally inaudible and painful to the ears.

This trip featured a ten-minute delay just beyond Route 128, due to some debris on the tracks. Our arrival at Back Bay Station (where we would conveniently switch to a Providence Line train) was at 10:20 AM, eight minutes off the advertised.

As we detrained, there was Maurice waiting for us on the platform. Finally after his rough morning he was united with the group. Jack was also waiting for us upstairs, fresh from his unexpected run to Needham. We were now up to nine people.

I received a call from Lyle McBride, who asked if he could join us on the train to Providence. He would get on in his home town, Attleboro.

Chapter 3.3: MBTA Providence Line, Train #805, Boston Back Bay Station to Providence, RI

The nine of us went downstairs to the platform for Tracks 1 and 3. During the time we were standing there, they changed our train from Track 3 to Track 1. Good thing, because an inbound train was using Track 3 at the time we should have been boarding.

Train 805 arrived from South Station four minutes late at 10:34 AM. The crew appeared to be total novices. The engineer overshot the platform, with some cars with open doors totally beyond the end of the platform. Only one open door was available, and this delayed the train even more as everybody had to board through one door. We continued down the corridor late.

Lyle boarded in Attleboro, and we then had ten people. Our trip continued into Rhode Island and finally arrived in Providence at 11:33 AM, five minutes down. We walked over to Providence Place.

Chapter 3.4: Lunch at Providence Place

The ten of us went up a series of escalators to the mall's food court. Our two hour break from riding trains was spent enjoying foods of our own choice and talking about trains!

A few guys walked around the mall for a while after they ate, but most of us left the seating area around 1:00 to begin our return to the station for the 1:30 departure.

We went back down the narrow staircase to the platform level, where we found our train already waiting on Track 2. We all boarded and got our seats. A few stragglers from our group later made their way from the mall to the station and eventually the train and joined us.

Chapter 3.5: MBTA Providence Line, Train #818, Providence, RI to Boston South Station

Our full group of ten was aboard when MBTA Train 818 departed from Providence at exactly 1:30. In twelve minutes we had returned to the MBTA's home state and were making our stop at South Attleboro.

We then said goodbye to Lyle, as he would be returning home when we got to Attleboro. Our group reverted to ten at that point.

The rest of our trip went well, and we arrived on time at Boston's South Station at 2:38 PM.

Chapter 3.6: Break at South Station

We had over an hour of dwell time here before our next train. It was the best I could do to get in as many rail lines as we did given the timetables. This also gave me some time to get some more MBTA tickets I didn't have yet. I also had some business with Amtrak that I could attend to during this time.

During our time in the station we again met up with Bill Antonides, who was preparing to depart Boston on Acela Express 2173 at 4:30 PM. Meanwhile, I heard from Jishnu Mukerji, who was on his way north on Acela Express 2166 headed towards Boston to join us for Saturday's activities. Bill's and Jishnu's trains would pass somewhere in eastern Connecticut. Small world!

We reassembled well before Train 017's departure, since we figured on this train being crowded on a Friday afternoon preceding a holiday weekend.

Chapter 3.7: MBTA Old Colony Line, Train #017, Boston South Station to Middleborough/Lakeville

For the first of many Old Colony Line trips, we departed on time at 3:45 PM. Once again we had nine people aboard. Our trip took eleven minutes longer than it should have, so we arrived at the Middleborough/Lakeville station at 4:52 PM.

Our dwell time was minimal, and soon we reboarded for the northbound trip as Train 020.

Chapter 3.8: MBTA Old Colony Line, Train #020, Middleborough/Lakeville to Boston South Station

Because the outbound train was late, we got a late start from Middleborough/Lakeville. We left four minutes late at 4:59 PM.

However, our timekeeping was pretty good on this trip, probably because there was less work at each station. We arrived back at South Station on time at 6:05 PM.

Upon arrival, we encountered some late rush hour bedlam. Boston, like Chicago, allows free access to any of its platforms. This practice causes pedestrian congestion since detraining passengers are mingling with those preparing to board. Human nature dictates that people boarding the trains gather around the doorways, blocking those getting off from doing so. The obstacle course continued as we walked towards the station, as people were standing still all over the place blocking our passage.

Chapter 3.9: End of Friday's activities

The result was that our group was broken up for the day, although we hadn't said our goodbyes. Everyone went their separate ways, either home, or to return to their hotels by whatever means was necessary.

Mike, Michael, and I had dinner at McDonald's in the station's food court. Since the ground level tables all appeared to be occupied, we found a place to sit on the mezzanine above the restaurants. After eating, we went and stood by the departure board awaiting a track assignment for Train 725 back to Forge Park.

Meanwhile, Jishnu's Acela Express train arrived on Track 8, and we just missed seeing him as our 7:35 Franklin Line train to Forge Park was called as his train was unloading. He went to his hotel in Cambridge for the night.

Chapter 4: Saturday, November 10, 2007

On our second and final Fest day, we would ride the Old Colony Lines to the Greenbush, Kingston, and Plymouth endpoints, as well as some rapid transit to Boston College and Lechmere.

Chapter 4.1: MBTA Old Colony Line, Train #1071, Boston South Station to Greenbush

A group of eight railfans met very early on Saturday morning at South Station in order to catch an 8:15 AM train on the MBTA's Greenbush Line. The train began boarding at around 8:07 on the station's Track 8. (We had expected it to be on one of the higher numbered platforms.)

The group boarding at South Station included Maurice (who had no delays this morning coming down from Lowell), Jack (who came close to missing us thanks to single tracking on the Blue Line), Jishnu (the only person today who was not involved with the Fest on Friday), and Ted (who had come up early from Providence on the first Providence Line train of the morning. Rounding out our group of eight were Alan, Mike, Michael, and me (all of whom rode the Franklin Line inbound).

We departed right on time. Our tickets were never collected. (We didn't find out why until later on at the Greenbush station.)

Our trip started out on the Old Colony trunk line also used by the Middleborough/Lakeville Line and Plymouth/Kingston Line. Skip joined us when he boarded at JFK/U-Mass, and Lou got on at the Quincy station after taking a Red Line train from Braintree. That brought us up to ten people for most of the day.

About a mile before Braintree we took a left over what appears to be a fully functioning wye. There is a track connection from the Greenbush Line to the south, apparently to be used if there is a problem on the trunk line. Greenbush trains could be routed into Braintree if necessary and passengers could take the Red Line to or from Boston.

Although many in our group rode many new rails on this day, Greenbush was by far the highlight. It was only the line's eleventh day of revenue operations. Probably the most prominent feature of the line was the underpass in Hingham necessitated by NIMBY's who didn't want the trains coming through their downtown area at grade. Those same people now want a station stop, but it will have to be just west of downtown on account of the $40 million underpass that not only was unnecessary but caused the line to open more than ten years after the other Old Colony Lines resumed service. There's also a shorter underpass in Weymouth.

Our train ran on time over the new line, and got to the Greenbush terminus at 9:09 AM, one minute early. We detrained here, but we really didn't have to since the train just sat in the station with the doors open. With the cold wind off the ocean making itself known, we decided to reboard and take our seats in preparation for our inbound trip on Train 1072.

Chapter 4.2: MBTA Old Colony Line, Train #1072, Greenbush to JFK/U-Mass

As we were sitting aboard the train awaiting our 9:26 AM departure, the conductor came in and announced that he had forgotten his bag, and so he would not be collecting any fares. Some people clapped and cheered.

Our inbound trip was otherwise uneventful. We had much more ridership on this inbound trip. In fact the "T" lost a fortune in revenues they could have collected not only on this train, but for the past ten years had Greenbush resumed when the other lines did.

We got to JFK/U-Mass on time at 10:10 AM. I had decided that we would make our train change here for a few reasons. First of all, although we were on time, going all the way into South Station could have subjected us to delays in the station area that might have resulted in our missing the next train. Also, going from one train to the next could have meant a long walk between platforms. There is only one track and one platform for commuter trains at JFK/U-Mass, so technically we could have stood right there for our 32-minute layover.

Being also a station stop on the Red Line, it gave us a place to wait indoors to get away from the wind and cold. In fact, some of us purchased our transit fares from the machines there. We also spoke with a Customer Service representative about how to possibly get a refund on unused commuter rail tickets. Then we went back down to the commuter rail platform in advance of our next train to Kingston.

Chapter 4.3: MBTA Old Colony Line, Train #1033, JFK/U-Mass to Kingston/Route 3

Train 1033 arrived right on time at 10:42 AM. However from that point it seemed to keep on losing time. Alan heard on his scanner that the engine was having trouble attaining track speed. My only concern was that they were going to use the same equipment at Kingston for the return trip. Had we missed the scheduled 11:40 AM northbound run, the next one would not be until 4:40 PM, five hours later. Skip found the conductor and was assured that the same equipment turns as Train 1036. We arrived in Kingston at 11:41 AM, eleven minutes late and one minute after we should have already left.

We got off to very briefly stretch our legs, and then reboarded the same coach to make sure we got seats. It only took the crews six minutes to turn the train rather than the scheduled ten, so we were off and running at 11:47 AM, just seven minutes late.

Chapter 4.4: MBTA Old Colony Line, Train #1036, Kingston/Route 3 to Whitman

It was another uneventful trip as our locomotive did a little better in "push" mode. We only lost one more minute up to Whitman, arriving there at 12:07 PM (vs. the scheduled 11:59 AM). For this trip and the following one, we used interzone tickets good for trips not involving the downtown stations.

Chapter 4.5: Lunch in Whitman

From the aforementioned preview tour two months prior, an eatery called Nana's Pizza & Subs near the Whitman station seemed to fit the bill perfectly. It was right across the street from the station, and our layover time between trains was almost 1-1/4 hours. Skip even checked out the location for me two weeks before the Fest to make sure they were still in business, and he called them the day before to verify that they could handle a group of ten hungry railfans in a limited amount of time. I was nervous because on a previous Fest in 2005 in the Philadelphia area (Drexel Hill to be exact), a pizza restaurant was overwhelmed by our group and we ended up missing the intended trolley trip in our itinerary.

Nana's handled us very well, and everyone seemed pleased with their respective lunch choices. In fact most of us were done and had taken their turn at the establishment's one hole rest room well before it was time to return to the train station. Due to the cold weather, we hung around as long as we could before making our way back to the platform to await our southbound train.

Chapter 4.6: MBTA Old Colony Line, Train #1053, Whitman to Cordage/Plymouth

Train 1053 was due to leave at 1:12 PM. It was seven minutes late, just like the previous southbound train we had been aboard going to Kingston. The train remained seven minutes behind all the way to the endpoint at Plymouth. But there was no worry, as our scheduled 25-minute dwell would turn into 18 minutes.

Once at Cordage/Plymouth, some of the guys took a short walk. Lou and Skip went to see the Atlantic Ocean, although those who stayed on the platform could see it right through a warehouse on the east side of the tracks that was missing some walls and windows. Ted also went to see the Walmart, which I had figured out from the sparse look of the parking lot had closed down. Skip said that the store moved out to a highway location across town.

Meanwhile, after discharging its passengers, our train continued south beyond the next grade crossing, where the crew turned it to become 1056 headed for Boston. Shortly before its scheduled 2:00 PM departure time, it came back to the platform to take on its first northbound passengers.

Chapter 4.7: MBTA Old Colony Line, Train #1056, Cordage/Plymouth to Boston South Station

Our trip north from Plymouth to Boston was uneventful and on time. We got into South Station right on time at 2:57 PM. Jack left us at South Station to go home, leaving nine of us to continue.

The commuter rail portion of our Fest was now complete, and it was time to top it off with a little bit of streetcar riding. The Green Line B branch was chosen because it had been out of service during our 2002 event. We would also do the E route up to Lechmere because it had been realigned in 2005 between Haymarket and Science Park through the North Station Superstation.

Chapter 4.8: MBTA Red Line, South Station to Park Street

To get to the Green Line we had to ride the Red Line two stops to Park Street. A few of us ran into difficulties finding a fare gate to accept our Charlie Cards or Charlie Tickets, so by the time we got down to the platform, a train was just leaving. We ended up departing from South Station at 3:08 PM, only three minutes behind our schedule. The three-minute trip got us to Park Street just in time to see a B streetcar headed for Boston College depart. However, we only had a few minutes to wait before another one came.

Chapter 4.9: MBTA Green Line B, Park Street to Boston College

We were only four minutes down at 3:18 PM as we began our outbound journey from Park Street. We had a nice trip out along Commonwealth Street, and actually got to the Boston College endpoint at 3:57, two minutes early!

The nine of us filed off the arriving car, and across the tracks to a waiting car sitting with its doors open. This streetcar already had some passengers aboard, but its fare box had "Out Of Order" on its readout. So we just boarded. An operator followed, and we soon departed from Boston College. Our entire time at the endpoint station: two minutes.

Chapter 4.10: MBTA Green Line B, Boston College to Government Center

The time was 3:59 PM. We were now five minutes ahead of our itinerary. As soon as our streetcar began running on Commonwealth Street, the fare box began working again. Subsequent passengers had to pay, that is, if they entered through the front door. The back doors were being used for boarding passengers as well, so revenue was not collected from them. Our streetcar got pretty crowded, although it emptied out nicely at the Copley station.

We continued to the downtown endpoint of the B line, Government Center. Our arrival there was at 4:40 PM, four minutes ahead of our original schedule. As soon as that vehicle left, directly behind it was an E car. We only spent one minute, if that much, on the Government Center platform before we were on our way once more.

Chapter 4.11: MBTA Green Line E, Government Center to Lechmere

The final official conveyance of our Fest would bring us up to Lechmere. As mentioned, if was the first time our OTOL group would travel over the trackage under the TD Banknorth Garden and up the new ramp to the Science Park station.

When we arrived at Lechmere at 4:48 PM (15 minutes earlier than planned), we were done with our Fest.

Original plans were to have dinner at the Cambridgeside Galleria nearby, however I scrubbed those plans earlier in the day since a large percentage of us were leaving town and the rest had made other plans for dinner.

Chapter 4.12: End of Saturday's activities

All of us went through the pedestrian tunnel under the Green Line tracks, and then we entered the southbound platform via fare gates. Although most of us found seats, that was our downfall as we broke up quickly and could not reach one another to say our goodbyes when that time came at Park Street.

Maurice, Lou, Jishnu, Michael, and I detrained at Park Street, while Skip, Alan, Ted, and Mike remained aboard the Green Line car. Ted would go to a museum and then he attended a Bruins hockey game at the Garden before returning to his hotel in Providence. Mike, Skip, and Alan had dinner at Joe's American Bar & Grill near Copley Square. Skip then returned home while Alan and Mike later boarded a Franklin Line train from Back Bay Station to their respective hotels at Dedham and Forge Park.

Meanwhile, from Park Street Jishnu, Lou, Maurice, Michael, and I rode the Red Line to South Station. Once there, Jishnu, Michael and I went to sit in the Club Acela thanks to Guest Rewards coupons to await our train. Lou and Maurice waited in the station.

The group travelling south boarded Amtrak Regional 169, with Jishnu, Michael, and me in Business Class, and Maurice and Lou in Coach Class. Lou would be going to New Haven, Michael and I were going to New York, Jishnu was going to Metropark, and Maurice was headed for Philadelphia. Jishnu and Maurice would have to change trains in New York, because some trackwork in Maryland necessitated splitting Train 169 in New York. A Train 1169 with no Business Class and no food service was running from New York as far as Baltimore.

After an on-time arrival in New York, Michael and I walked to Herald Square and took PATH to Hoboken, and then Hudson-Bergen LRT to Lincoln Harbor. We then drove home, getting in at 1 AM.

Chapter 5: Sunday, November 11, 2007

Sunday saw those of us who had taken Train 169 arrive home in the wee hours. No doubt everyone slept late that day!

Meanwhile back in Boston, besides those who live in Massachusetts, Mike and Alan were still in town. Mike caught the first Franklin Line train of the morning from Forge Park at 10:40, made his way across town, and took an excursion on the Rockport Line. Once back at South Station, Mike then made his way back to Logan Airport and his flight back to Ohio.

Alan took the same Franklin Line train from Dedham Corporate Center, and then he took Acela Express 2255 back to New York.

Chapter 6: Conclusion

Another very successful meet is in the history books. Everyone had a good time chatting about trains and riding them as well. We look forward to another Boston meet in the future, where we will do commuter rail primarily out of North Station but also the Framingham-Worcester Line and parts of the Blue Line and Red Line that we have not yet done together.

In the near term, the Big Apple Railfest 2008 event takes place just a little over two months after we met in Boston.

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